Few species polarise opinion more than the Giant Panda. On the one hand, it’s endearing features and inherent charisma ensures that it receives adoration across the world, yet it’s also at the receiving end of much resentment, particularly from conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts – including myself – who feel it receives a vastly disproportionate amount of conservation income to enable its fragile existence to continue. This got me thinking: how many other species have benefited from giant panda conservation. To what extent is it justified; is it a cost and time effective means of conservation?
Despite the WWF icon’s evolutionary shortcomings, such as possessing a gut ill-equipped to digest its one and only food, the reality is that conserving the panda helps to conserve many other species and entire ecosystems. It is an umbrella species. Hard evidence to support this status has, in the past, been difficult to come by or tinged with ambiguity. However, a recent study published in the journal, Conservation Biology, highlights the fact that giant panda conservation in China is highly advantageous in helping the country’s other vulnerable creatures. The detail of the findings will require exploration in something less fleeting than a ‘thought of the day’, but the headline is this: protect the panda and you indirectly conserve a rich slice of China’s biodiversity.